(often, in wine circles, simply tasting) is the sensory
examination and evaluation of
wine. While the practice of wine
tasting is as ancient as its production, a more formalized
methodology has slowly become established from the 14th century
onwards. Modern, professional wine tasters (such as
sommeliers or buyers for
retailers) use a
constantly-evolving formal terminology which is used to describe the
range of perceived flavors, aromas and general characteristics of a
wine. More informal, recreational tasting may use similar
terminology, usually involving a much less analytical process for a
more general, personal appreciation.
 The results of the four
recognized stages to wine tasting –
"in mouth" sensations
– are combined in
order to establish the following properties of a wine: complexity
potential (suitability for aging or drinking)
A wine's overall
quality assessment, based on this examination, follows further
careful description and comparison with recognized standards, both
with respect to other wines in its price range and according to
known factors pertaining to the region or vintage; if it is typical
of the region or diverges in style; if it uses certain
wine-making techniques, such as
malolactic fermentation, or any
other remarkable or unusual characteristics.
Whereas wines are
regularly tasted in isolation, a wine's quality assessment is more
objective when performed alongside several other wines, in what are
known as tasting "flights". Wines may be deliberately selected for
vintage ("horizontal" tasting) or
proceed from a single
winery ("vertical" tasting), to
vineyard and vintages,
respectively. Alternatively, in order to promote an unbiased
analysis, bottles and even glasses may be disguised in a "blind"
tasting, to rule out any prejudicial awareness of either vintage or
To ensure impartial
judgment of a wine, it should be served blind — that is,
without the taster(s) having seen the label or bottle shape. Blind
tasting may also involve serving the wine from a black wine glass to
mask the color of the wine. A taster's judgment can be prejudiced by
knowing details of a wine, such as geographic origin, price,
reputation, color, or other considerations.
has long demonstrated the
power of suggestion in perception
as well as the strong effects of expectancies. For example, people
expect more expensive wine to have more desirable characteristics
than less expensive wine. When given wine that they are falsely told
is expensive they virtually always report it as tasting better than
the very same wine when they are told that it is inexpensive. French
researcher Frédéric Brochet "submitted a mid-range Bordeaux in two
different bottles, one labeled as a cheap table wine, the other
bearing a grand cru etiquette" and obtained predictable results.
Tasters described the supposed grand cru as "woody, complex, and
round" and the supposed cheap wine as "short, light, and faulty."
Blind tastings have repeatedly demonstrated that price is not highly
correlated with the evaluations made by most people who taste wine.
On the other hand, some extremely expensive wines of great fame,
Chateau Petrus and
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti,
consistently receive the highest ratings in blind tastings of
professional reviewers such as
have expectations about wines because of their
producer, vintage, color, and many
other factors. For example, when Brochet served a white wine he
received all the usual descriptions: "fresh, dry, honeyed, lively."
Later he served the same wine dyed red and received the usual red
terms: "intense, spicy, supple, deep."
The world of wine
has numerous myths and exaggerations that are only now being
disproven scientifically, yet they influence perceptions and
expectancies. Not even professional tasters are immune to the strong
effects of expectancies. Therefore, the need for blind tasting
Vertical and horizontal
horizontal wine tastings are wine
tasting events that are arranged to highlight differences
between similar wines.
is a term used by wine tasters to describe a selection of wines,
usually between three and eight glasses, but sometimes as many as
fifty, presented for the purpose of sampling and comparison.
Glasses used in
tasting flights are usually smaller than normal wine glasses, and
they are often presented on top of a sheet of paper which identifies
each wine and gives some information about each
grape or vineyard. This format
allows tasters to compare and contrast different wines.
An extended tasting
will typically consist of several flights, each with a theme. For
example, several wines from the same region and vintage would
comprise a flight, or several wines from the same variety but
different regions. It is typically the responsibility of the tasting
organizer to select flights that offer maximum illumination of
similarities and differences, while at the same time making sure the
progression of flights is appropriate.
that a wine is served at can greatly effect the way it taste and
smell. Lower temperatures will emphasize
tannins while muting the
aromatics. Higher temperatures will
minimize acidity and tannins while increasing the aromatics.
Master of Wine
Jancis Robinson recommends the
following temperature range for different styles of wine.
dessert wines: (Ex:
Sauternes) 41-50°F (5-10°C)
sparkling wines: (Ex:
Champagne) 43-50°F (6-10°C)
Aromatic, light bodied white: (Ex:
Sauvignon blanc) 46-54°F
Red sparkling wines: (Ex: Sparkling
Shiraz, some frizzante
Medium bodied whites: (Ex:
Semillon) 50-54°F (10-12°C)
Full bodied dessert wines: (Ex:
Madeira) 46-54°F (8-12°C)
Light bodied red wines: (Ex:
rosé) 50-54°F (10-12°C)
Full bodied white wines: (Ex:
Rhone whites) 54-61°F
Medium bodied red wines: (Ex:
Full bodied red wines: (Ex:
Nebbiolo based wines)
The shape of a
wineglass can have a subtle impact on the perception of wine,
especially its bouquet.
Typically, the ideal shape is considered to be wider toward the
bottom, with a narrower aperture at the top ('egg', or perhaps,
'beaker' shaped). 'Tulip'-shaped glasses, which are widest at the
top are considered the least ideal. Many wine tastings use
ISO XL5 glasses, which are
'egg'-shaped. Interestingly, the effect of glass shape does not
appear to be related to whether the glass is pleasing to look at.
Order of tasting
Tasting order is
very important, as heavy or sweet wines can dominate lighter wines
and skew the taster's assessment of those wines. As such, wines
should be tasted in the following order: sparkling wines; light
whites, then heavy whites; roses; light reds; heavy reds; sweet
tasted the wines, however, one does not know if, for example, a
white is heavy or light. Before tasting, try to determine the order
the wines should be assessed in, by appearance and nose alone.
Remember that heavy wines will be deeper in color and generally more
intense on the nose. Sweeter wines, being denser, will leave thick,
viscous streaks (called legs)
down the inside of the glass, when swirled.
The wine tasting process
color is the first step in tasting wine
There are five
basic steps in tasting wine: color, swirl, smell, taste, and savour.
This is also known as the five Ss: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Savor.
During this process, a taster must look for clarity, varietal
character, integration, expressiveness, complexity, and
A wine's color is
better judged by putting it against a white background. The wine
glass is put at an angle in order to see the colors. Colors can give
the taster clues to the grape variety, and whether the wine was aged
B) Characteristics assessed
describes how much a wine presents its inherent grape aromas.
A wine taster also looks for integration, which is a state in which
none of the components of the wine (acid,
tannin, alcohol, etc) is out of balance with the other components.
When a wine is well balanced, the wine is said to have achieved a
quality of the wine to look for is its expressiveness.
Expressiveness is the quality the "wine possesses when its aromas
and flavors are well-defined and clearly projected.
The complexity of the wine is affected by many factors, one of which
may be the multiplicity of its flavors. The connectedness of the
wine, a rather abstract and difficult to ascertain quality, is how
connected is the bond between the wine and the land where it comes
Connoisseur wine tasting
A wine's quality
can be judged by its bouquet and taste. The bouquet is the total
aromatic experience of the wine. Assessing a wine's bouquet can also
reveal faults such as
oxidation due to heat overexposure,
and yeast contamination (e.g., due to
Brettanomyces). To some wine
aficionados, the presence of some Brettanomyces aromatic
characteristics is considered a positive attribute; however to
others, even the slightest hint of Brettanomyces character is cause
for a wine’s rejection.
The bouquet of wine
is best revealed by gently swirling the wine in a wine glass to
expose it to more oxygen and release more
etheric, ester, and aldehyde molecules that comprise the essential
components of a wine's bouquet.
experience a wine's bouquet aids the wine taster in anticipating the
wine's flavors and focusing the palate. The "nose" of a wine - its
bouquet or aroma - is the major determinate of perceived flavor in
the mouth. Once inside the mouth, the aromatics are further
liberated by exposure to body heat, and transferred
olfactory receptor site. It is here
that the complex taste experience characteristic of a wine actually
a wine involves perception of its array of taste and
mouthfeel attributes, which involve
the combination of textures, flavors, weight,and overall
"structure". Following appreciation of its olfactory
characteristics, the wine taster savors a wine by holding it in the
mouth for a few seconds to saturate the
taste buds. By pursing ones lips
and breathing through that small opening oxygen will pass over the
wine and release even more esters. When the wine is allowed pass
slowly through the mouth it presents the connoisseur with the
fullest gustatory profile available to the human palate.
The acts of pausing
and focusing through each step distinguishes wine tasting from
simple quaffing. Through this process, the full array of aromatic
molecules is captured and interpreted by approximately 15 million
, comprising a few
hundred olfactory receptor classes. When tasting several wines in
succession, however, key aspects of this fuller experience (length
and finish, or aftertaste) must necessarily be sacrificed through
qualities are known to be widely distributed throughout the oral
cavity, the concept of an anatomical "tongue
map" yet persists in the wine tasting arena, in which
different tastes are believed to map to different areas of the
tongue. A widely accepted example is the misperception that the tip
of the tongue uniquely tells how sweet a wine is and the upper edges
tell its acidity.
As part of the
tasting process, and as a way of comparing the merits of the various
wines, wines are given scores according to a relatively set system.
This may be either explicitly weighting different aspects, or by
global judgment (although the same aspects would be considered).
These aspects are 1) the appearance of the wine, 2) the nose or
smell, 3) the palate or taste, and 4) overall. Different systems
weight these differently (e.g., appearance 15%, nose 35%, palate
50%). Typically, no modern wine would score less than half on any
scale (which would effectively indicate an obvious fault). It is
more common for wines to be scored out of 20 (including half marks)
in Europe and parts of Australasia, and out of 100 in the US.
However, different critics tend to have their own preferred system,
and some gradings are also given out of 5 (again with half marks).
Wine can affect the consumer's judgment. As such, at formal
tastings, where dozens of wines may be assessed, wine tasters
generally spit the wine out after they have assessed its quality.
However, since wine is absorbed through the skin inside the mouth,
tasting from twenty to twenty-five samplings can produce an
intoxicating effect, depending on the alcoholic content of the wine.
Traveling to wine
regions is another way of increasing skill in tasting. Many wine
producers in wine regions all over the world offer tastings of their
wine. Depending on the country or region, tasting at the winery may
incur a small charge to allow the producer to cover costs.
to an area where you might want to visit a vineyard or winery, call
first to see when you might be able to visit. This prevents arriving
at a time when you cannot be accommodated.
It is not
considered rude to spit out wine at a winery, even in the presence
of the wine maker or owner. Generally, a
spittoon will be provided. In some
regions of the world, tasters simply spit on the floor or onto
gravel surrounding barrels. It is polite to inquire about where to
spit before beginning tasting.
Attending Wine Schools
A growing number of
wine schools can be found, offering wine tasting classes to the
public. These programs often help a wine taster hone and develop
their abilities in a controlled setting. Some also offer
professional training for sommeliers and winemakers. It is even
possible to learn how to assess wine methodically via e-learning
Tasting plays an
important role in the
sensory analysis of wine. Employing
trained or consumer panel,
oenologists may perform a variety
of tests on the taste, aroma, mouthfeel and appeal of wines.
Difference tests are important in
determining whether different fermentation conditions or new
vineyard treatments alter the character of a wine, something
particularly important to producers who aim for consistency.
Preference testing establishes consumer preference, while
descriptive analysis determines the most prominent traits of the
wine, some of which grace back labels. Blind tasting and other
laboratory controls help mitigate bias and assure statistically
significant results. Many large wine companies now boast their own
sensory team, optimally consisting of a Ph.D. sensory scientist, a
flavor chemist and a trained panel.
Peynaud, Émile (1996)
The Taste of Wine:
The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation,
London: Macdonald Orbis, p1
Ronald S. Jackson,
Wine Tasting: A
Peynaud, Émile (1996)
The Taste of Wine:
The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation,
London: Macdonald Orbis, p2
Tasting. A study of
the chemical representations in the field of
Wine Snob Scandal
- Brochet's work on dyed wine
Robinson Jancis Robinson's Wine Course
Third Edition pg 28 Abbeville Press 2003
Huttenbrink, K., Schmidt, C., Delwiche, J.,
& Hummel, T. (2001). The aroma of red wine
is modified by the form of the wine glass.
Laryno-Rhino-Otologie, 80(2), 96-100.
Delwiche, J., & Pelchat, M. (2002).
Influence of glass shape on wine aroma.
Journal of Sensory Studies, 17(1),
Hummel, T., Delwiche, J., Schmidt, C., &
Huttenbrink, K. (2003). Effects of the form
of glasses on the perception of wine flavors:
a study in untrained subjects. Appetite,
Zraly, Kevin. Windows on the World:
Complete Wine Course; Sterling
MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible;
Workman Publishing, New York (2001).
MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible;
Workman Publishing, New York, p.5 (2001).
Gluckstern, Willie. The Wine Avenger,
Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1998.
Walton, Stuart (2005). Cook's
Encyclopedia of Wine. Anness Publishing
Limited 2002, 2005, pgs.10,11.
offers a Honours Brevet via e-learning